Cyclists banned from Christmas in the Park

LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. - A group of Kansas City cyclists were denied access to the Christmas in the Park lights display because the Jackson County Parks and Recreation Department said it's too dangerous.

Jim Flath is part of a cycling group that logs thousands of miles a year. They organize weekly nighttime rides around the Longview area, and with the weather being unusually warm for this part of the year, they wanted to ride through the display at Longview Park.

Flath pitched the idea to the county but was quickly denied.

"It was disappointing because we're talking about trying to organize a consolidated, safe effort through the park," Flath said. "The rejection I got on the phone was 'Well it's not safe because cars turn off their lights.' I tried to get more rationale behind that and couldn't."

A sign posted at the entrance requires cars to turn off their headlights, so the Christmas lights can be seen more clearly.

Jackson County Parks and Recreation Director Michele Newman said that's just one of the safety concerns she has with adding cyclists to the thousands of cars that go through the display each night.

"It's only two-lane roads, there are no shoulders to those roads," she explained. "In many of the areas it's very windy, and considerably dark."

Flath said his group takes every precaution necessary by requiring all riders to have a headlight, taillight, helmet and reflective jacket.

"We're a really safe group of riders because we do it a lot, especially around Longview," Flath said. "The drivers recognize us and we recognize the drivers."

"I don't feel like it's unsafe at all," Tye added. "It's probably a safer ride than a lot of the rides that we do on the street with traffic moving at regular traffic speeds."

To reduce the risk of an accident, the cyclists were hoping for a preplanned, one-hour time frame where only bikes would be allowed into the park. They also considered using pilot cars that would separate the group of cyclists from other cars. Again, they were denied.

"We really feel that the policy we have in place has been substantial the past 25 years," Newman said. "We believe it will be the most effective policy moving forward."

Newman also said there is a concern that many of the drivers and cyclists will have some of their attention on the displays, which she said can increase the risk of a collision. She said the road has a lot of electrical wires that she feel can be a hazard for crossing cyclists, as well.

"We encourage and invite everyone to experience Christmas in the Park. This is our 25th year," Newman said. "We just need you to be in a motorized vehicle."

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